Youth Ministry and the Future of the Church Part 4

Youth Ministry has come a long way since I was a kid in the late 80’s-early 90’s. I remember clip-art with white surfers/skaters always saying that Jesus was Radical!! Tubular!!! Outrageous! Sorry not enough exclamations there, I mean OUTRAGEOUS!!! (need one for each member of the Trinity).

Unless I am mistaken, it was believed that if we could make Jesus relatable enough and “cool” enough, our young minds wouldn’t be able to help ourselves and we would fall madly in love with Jesus and reject our cultural’s non-edifying values and live happily ever after. A funny thing happened though, it was pretty much the opposite of all that. My friends and I were fairly polite, we tolerated the “Sk8r boi Jesus” but similar to how Jesus lost many of the 5000 with the “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man …” part, He lost us also with the “Jesus is Gnarly” part. Trouble is, one is found in the inspired text and the other in a flawed methodology.

I always knew Jesus was good, but in my teenage mind, he reeked of desperation and seemed a bit insecure, you know with all the searching for identity stuff. There was also a very high amount of guilt in many of the messages I heard in the late 80’s/early 90’s. I wasn’t quite sure if it was because he lost some of his skater/surf endorsements but for a “chill” guy, he seemed pretty consumed with my thought life and I kept hearing how angry he was about it.

That said, my real problem was while I had been convinced that Jesus loved me, I had no idea what the Bible was really about. For years, it was a fragmented collection of stories (like Daniel and the Lion’s Den), parables (like the Prodigal Son), data to be largely ignored (Numbers, Leviticus, Acts) and words of comfort (from select Psalms, the Gospels and Pauline references). Oh – there was Revelation and a handful of prophecies warning us that Russia was going to attack us (This is true, I grew up toward the end of the Cold War era).

Imagine my relief when I discovered a better vision of Jesus. Soon after that, I was humbled by the beauty and awed by the brilliance of the Bible. Content with a better understanding of the Messiah, jaded by my impressions of the Church, it was no wonder that I (and so many of my friends) loved movies like Dogma and Saved! I admit, I still laugh every time I think of “Buddy Christ” (It’s not Jesus they’re making fun of).

It is possible years from now my current students will write blog posts (or whatever it will be then) about the times we used the metaphors in movies for an entire weekend, week-long mission trips, Crowder-stye music, documentaries on human trafficking and suggest how this was counter-productive to their faith but it’s the best I know to do and may the Lord use me in spite of myself.

Along with my calling and my desire to be faithful, this tongue-in-cheek fear keeps me motivated. And here is today’s thought – For the sake of our Church’s future, youth ministry today must not only be Jesus-centered but give a Biblically-responsible Jesus.


  1. Jim Peterhoff says:

    Great post Tim, I am always conflicted on the whole “is my message guilting others to believe or persuading people in love?” thing myself when teaching. But in other news, Leviticus is hardly useless data, it is only the BEST book in the Bible. The crazy Ruskies who managed to sneak a Bible into their house may have thought we were the Beast and Revelation was about us destroying them. And finally, nothing like a great “Buddy Jesus” picture to get a point across. Ah, He’s awesome.

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